Not only were the Michigan State Spartans a solid team in the 1960’s but they were also famous for recruiting black kids out of the South. Nobody else was recruiting them other than the traditionally black schools of the South like Grambling.
Duffy Daughterty coached Michigan State from 1954 through 1972 when he retired. It wasn’t all glamour for the Spartans under Daugherty, but in 1965 and 1966 Michigan State raced to a 19-1-1 record with it’s only loss coming in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State had 11 black starters in 1966 including All Americans Bubba Smith from Beaumont, Texas, George Webster from Anderson, South Carolina, and Gene Washington from LaPorte, Texas. Not only were these guys 1st team All Americans, they were also 1st round draft picks by the NFL.
Besides the All Americans, the Spartans’ defense had All Big 10 African-American players in Safety Jess Phillips from Beaumont, Texas and Linebacker Charlie Thornhill from Roanoke, Virginia.
Cornerback Jimmy Summers was also black and from Orangeburg, South Carolina.
Duffy Daugherty also recruited a white kid from Florida named Steve Garvey in the 1966 recruiting class. In actuality, it was baseball that brought Garvey to Michigan State, but he was a really good football player as well. At Chamberlain High School in Tampa, Garvey was a Quarterback and Defensive Back while obviously a standout baseball player. Over the years, Chamberlain has produced not only Garvey, but also Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, plus football players Kevin House Jr, Forrest Blue, Bob Burns, James Harrell and many others.
As most older fans remember, freshmen weren’t eligible on the varsity back in those years, and Garvey was relegated to playing on the freshman team. But, to his credit, Garvey was such a great athlete, that he played Quarterback all season long on the scout team. Playing on the scout team can be miserable when you are playing against All World type players such as George Webster and Bubba Smith. Throw in Linebacker Thornhill and Safety Phillips and you are talking about some physical pain. Especially with monsters like Webster and Smith. Webster was the hardest hitting player on the team and he played something of a Rover back. At 6-4, 225, Webster was bigger than most down linemen in that era.
Smith was also a freak of nature at 6-7, 265. Smith grew up dreaming of playing at the University of Texas, but sadly they didn’t play black players at that time and they were all white up until 1971. The Big 10 and Michigan State had been recruiting and playing black players for decades.
Garvey was a handsome, lily white kid from Tampa and of course, these monsters took their wrath out on him. It was a wonder he survived his freshman season, but he kept coming back.
1967 was the first combined NFL draft between the NFL and the AFL as the two leagues merged. It would be a draft dominated by the Michigan State Spartans.
Bubba Smith went number 1 to the Baltimore Colts, with Spartan Running Back Clint Jones being pick at number 2 by the Minnesota Vikings.
With a couple of Quarterbacks named Spurrier and Griese going with the 3rd and 4th picks, Linebacker George Webster was next taken by the Houston Oilers.
Wide Receiver Gene Washington was next. He was picked with the 8th pick by the Minnesota Vikings. Four of the top eight picks in the 1967 draft were Michigan State Spartans which explains the 19-1-1 record over the previous two seasons.
But, they lost too much talent to continue with the winning ways and they finished 3-7 in 1967.
Steve Garvey started at Defensive Back in 1967 as a sophomore.
Even though he was good enough to start as a sophomore, baseball was his first love and his very first at bat at Michigan State was a grand slam home run.
After the 1968 baseball season, Garvey was a first round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The rest of Steve Garvey’s story is pretty well known. He may have played a year in the minors before being called up and he played 19 years in the major leagues with the Dodgers and the Padres.
He was known as Mr Clean, but that didn’t turn out to be so accurate.
For more info about the recruiting pipeline that Duffy Daughterty had with the South, I recommend reading Raye of Light by Tom Shanahan Ray of Light